12 thoughts on “New Report on the Importance of Play in Kindergarten

  1. Sara writes:

    Every policy maker should be required to read it.


    ABSOLUTELY! But the larger question is, do they? What good is an Alliance for Childhood report, Harris Cooper’s research, Center for Talented Youth’s recommendation on homework for gifted kids (don’t work them to death is the message in a nutshell) or Sara Bennett and Alfie Kohn’s books if no one in charge is bothering to read them?

    We’d love it if Sara and Alfie’s homework books were required reading for every K-12 school teacher. But when it comes to The Alliance for Childhood, backed by every major child theoretician worth his or her salt, why isn’t this adhered to? I’ve long maintained that before schools send home an iota of homework, they must consult with pediatricians and psychologists, an independent oversight review board, run and managed by parents. You can’t trust the schools to do this job, that would be like the fox guarding the hen house.

    Right now school boards make policy decisions as they see fit. More often they make decisions based on ideology rather than science. But not only is that not right, it’s not ethical. Board members are making decisions that affect the health of our children and they are not qualified to make those decisions.

    Let’s assume for the sake of argument that school boards are qualified to make curriculum and school administrative decisions. But when it comes to “legislating” homework, sleep and play, they must defer to experts in those fields and not be allowed to make a single decision with regard to health and welfare before medical and mental health experts weigh in.

    And I am not talking about the school psychologist or social worker. If anyone here has ever gone before a public school screening committee seeking accommodations, you will find, oddly enough, that it is more often than not the PSYCHOLOGIST who most vociferously denies the request! Go figure. A mental health professional denying legitimate accommodations to help a child succeed in school.

    Our founding fathers assured that our government must have a system of checks and balances to keep us straight and vigilant. But we somehow don’t apply that to our schools, the largest government entity and the one that affects us most personally, on a daily basis. We’ve somehow given up all our rights in this arena.

    It does no good to make recommendations when the school board looks at these reports (if that) and shoves it into a file somewhere, never to be seen or heard from again.

    I suppose the Alliance is trying to reach out to parents, in hopes they will affect change. That’s what we are trying to do here. But it’s not enough. I commend The Alliance for their diligent work. They are our eyes and ears and they take our concerns very seriously. I am sure they are just as frustrated as we are with top heavy monolithic archaic school management. resistant to change and input.

    I wish I had the answers. In short, I do. It lies in the parents. And that’s like moving mountains.


  2. Even though I work in psychology, I have seen instances where the psychology professionals were really pushing this homework ethic. I recall an American public school website…I wish I could remember which one…where the ‘helpful hints about homework’ page of the website was written by the school psychologist. It began something like this: ” It would be nice if after the school day is over, children could just go out to play and do the things they would like to do, but we all know that there are more important things to do like homework”

    Why would teachers want to give homework? I don’t understand it.


  3. The psychologist wrote; It would be nice if after the school day is over, children could just go out to play and do the things they would like to do, but we all know that there are more important things to do like homework”


    My god, what an idiot. And to think we our tax dollars pay for this person’s salary. Schools are facing the most serious budget shortfall of their lives, we are informed. We are increasing class size, putting 32 kids of mixed ability in a classroom and expecting the teacher to differentiate accordingly, we are cutting electives and extra-curriculars, yet we hire such “professionals” to take up space. Why we cannot say. Have you ever had the opportunity to sit down with the psychologist or social worker? Me neither.

    What do these people do all day? Oh, yea, they go to meetings and write reports. And update web sites whereby they lecture to parents on how to spend their family time. Reminding us all how silly, frivolous and time wasting play is. The Puritan work ethic is alive and well. Who’s got the whip?


  4. I’m printing this study out and giving it to my daughter’s teachers. It is so heartbreaking how these kids are being robbed of their childhood and their love of learning….


  5. Aurora, it IS heartbreaking. I couldn’t get through it, I had to stop, to be continued later. We read the effects of all this play deprivation, rise in behavioral problems, psychological problems, the long term detrimental effects. Once you tamper with early imaginative and creative development, you can’t go back.

    It’s incumbent upon all of us to send this report to every elementary school teacher we know.


  6. It is so heartbreaking how these kids are being robbed of their childhood and their love of learning….


    And for what? For test scores? It’s worth ruining a childhood for…test scores? My daughter was briefly in therapy back in elementary to deal with the stresses of homework overload. The counselor advised us to stay home on the day of the tests. She said, “these tests are not for the children. It’s not about the children.” Wise words.

    It’s not about the children. It never seems to be about the children. Take a look at budget cuts. School superintendents are cutting where it hurts the most while school bureaucracies continue to be more bloated than ever. A woman wrote into the Washington Post yesterday with what she termed a wake up call to county residents.

    She detailed how our school district has about 34 full time staffers who do nothing but assess standardized test scores and crunch the numbers. Can you imagine, in a time of such budget austerity to have such excess? She suggested that if we only cut class size and hired more teachers, the scores would take care of themselves. And in my daughter’s gifted classes, the tests were a waste of time. It was no secret the gifted kids had to carry the school. The kids were bounty. Again, not about the children.

    Anna Quindlen wrote in her Newsweek column several years ago, “Who cares if the light goes out as long as the numbers are good?”

    Did you all catch Jay Mathews’ Extra Credit last week in the Washington Post? A mother wrote in how so much has changed in just the five years since her oldest did kindergarten. Now her twins are kindergarteners and one of them is beginning to hate school. He is already overloaded with homework, they aren’t playing enough, he’s being drilled and prepped for tests and she is very concerned he’ll lose his love of learning along with his childhood. She said today’s kindergarten is definitely yesterday’s first grade and she wanted her son to do kindergarten in kindergarten and first grade in first grade.

    You know how Jay Mathews responded? He defended the new kindergarten, asserting reading and math scores have gone up! He truly missed the point. The point being children don’t go to kindergarten to raise their test scores, they go, we hope, to get an education! Mom didn’t care about test scores, she cared about his childhood. Remember, the test scores are not for the children.

    Mathews went on to say that he had not heard of children crying about kindergarten, hating school and having too much homework! I wanted to send the piece to Susan Ohanian, author of “What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten?” but she beat me to it. She put it out on her listserve, calling Mathews’ response outrageous.:


  7. I can’t stop myself. Here’s a review of that Susan Ohanian book I reference above. It was written in 2002, 7 years ago. Ask yourself, have things gotten better…or worse?

    Education Digest, September 2002

    This book sounds alarm bells for parents about the dangers of high-stakes testing, its psychological impact on children, and the future of public schools in America. Sounding the alarm about specific ways these tests harm younger and younger students, Ohanian charges that federal education mandates do not support learning, but in fact take away a student?s most basic learning needs. ?Standardistas? and ?testocrats,? she charges, are slowly dismantling a system that once used care and common sense to provide each child with necessary and well-rounded skills. Vanishing from schools are recess, learning expectations matched to individual children, art, music, and even that venerable staple?the teacher reading aloud from a favorite book.

    What Happened to Recess paints a disturbing portrait of the high-level stress experienced by even the youngest students and the most experienced teachers in today?s public schools. High stakes testing, Ohanian says, has produced terror-stricken kindergartners afraid of failing and long hours of homework for children whose heavy backpacks have caught the attention and alarm of pediatricians.

    Ohanian argues that standardized tests administered to young children are often developmentally inappropriate, that they are way beyond the children?s reasoning abilities. As evidence of this, she cites a vote by the Virginia Board of Education to move materials that had been presented to third-graders up four levels to the more appropriate seventh grade.

    In New Jersey from 1999-2000, she says, only 6 out of 90,000 children received high marks on the state?s high-stakes writing test. A panel of experts discovered that fourth-graders were being judged by eighth-grade standards.

    The author also reports that attempts to prepare students for high-stakes tests have produced curricula that, like some of the tests, are developmentally inappropriate as well. As an example, she cites the topics for a history course. These topics include: Basic Geographic Awareness; Ancient Rome; From Caesar to Augustus; From the Roman Empire to Constantine; Rome Falls and Byzantium Rises; The Early Middle Ages in Western Europe; The Rise of Islam; A World in Turmoil; The Feudal World; Crusades Abroad and Changes in Europe; Medieval African Empires; Medieval China; and Feudal Japan.

    This is not the outline for an advanced placement course. No, she says, ?This outline is part of what William Bennett terms ?the frontier of high-quality, high-performance education reform.? It is the outline for the K12.com history course for second-graders.?

    By Substance and NCTE
    By Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    [Order from Barnes&Noble]
    [Order from Amazon.com]


  8. Sorry about all the question marks in that review, above. It just didn’t translate well in the cut and paste and didn’t come up as I wrote the post. Now I can’t retrieve it, it’s up there :(.


  9. Hi Sara: This s SUCH an important issue. The Alliance is coming out with a 8 pg summary as well as a fact sheet on the report — both will be great resources for parents to share. Sadly, I can’t see a lot of the people who REALLY NEED to read it reading a 72 pg report. Hope they prove me wrong.

    I just did a post on it this week as well — the kickoff to a series on the issue. I hope everyone will read the post, but also the comments, including one from Ed Miller, co-author of the report.


    Cheers- Bethe


  10. I’ve been digesting the Alliance report and it is very hard to read…not because it’s a complex document, but because I had no idea these things are going on in elementary schools. I also sit on a nonprofit daycare board of directors, and I’m going to give the executive summary of the report to our Director and make the whole report available to her if she wants it. She sometimes has to defend her totally correct position that the preschoolers do not need “instruction” and that preparing them for school does not mean getting them to do literacy and numeracy tasks formally. Play’s the thing!


  11. PsychMom writes:

    I’ve been digesting the Alliance report and it is very hard to read…not because it’s a complex document, but because I had no idea these things are going on in elementary schools.


    I had the exact same reaction. As bad as I imagined things to be, I had no idea it was this awful. It makes my daughter’s private school K look like, well, the Garden of Children. Which is what kindergarten actually means.! Sorry, kids, wrong door. You entered hell instead.

    My daughter performed/competed yesterday so I had the delightful pleasure of chatting with another parent on the team, a kindergarten teacher, as it turns out. We are on the same page so I love talking to her. I’m going to send her this report. I talked about developmental stages, how we are destroying the process, thwarting growth and that once you miss major developmental milestones, a la Piaget, you can’t go back.

    She told me no one listens to Piaget anymore. Gasp, tears. I can understand Sigmund Freud is now dated, but Piaget? I cut my parenting teeth on David Elkind, beginning with “Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk” and progressing to “The Hurried Child.” For those of you who have read Elkind, he is very much a Piagetian and his cautions apply as much today as ever.

    My friend said all the buzz in early education is scaffolding and Vygotsky. I know a little about Vygotsky. I expressed surprise. I told her, I thought Vygotsky was all about play. She said yes, but…and then we were interrupted.

    What’s the but? Now I have to go read Vygostsky but I’m trying to be disciplined and spend less time on line unless it has to do with the three deadlines due by tomorrow. Can someone clue me in, please? How did Vygotsky get mangled?


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